The Strelitzia Trio played a lunchtime concert at St James Church, Sydney today. The program consisted of one work, Smetana’s Trio in G Minor, a work, as pianist Lindsay Gilroy reminded the audience in her introduction, composed shortly after the death of Smetana’s five year old daughter. It is no surprise that the composer’s writing displays a mix of some grief, some anguish, and, in the middle movement some playful elements, which may well have referred to a once happy child.
Smetana is a passionate composer, who displays deep feelings for his life, his native land and folk traditions. But he also displays great delicacy. Listeners are supposed to be moved and to delight in the delicate moments. Why then was I not moved? The opening solo violin statement was played assuredly enough by Victoria Jacono. Sadly she sought intensity by overplaying rather than through rich tone, and perhaps intensity of vibrato. Lindsay Gilroy then adopted the same overbearing approach and, in the bright acoustic of St James, the result was muddy, without a trace of refinement. The second movement’s bright, though not quite cheerful, opening demands a lightness of touch which was sadly lacking. Where the cello came into its own, both in the second movement and in the glorious melody around which the final movement revolves, Eleanor Betts played with elegance and well formed phrases. Her colleagues would do well to emulate her restraint and good line.
Such an assessment begs a very big question: what is your correspondent missing? This ensemble has won a Musica Viva Chamber Music Award and is a Musica Viva “Rising Star”. The string players have participated in the Sydney Symphony Fellowship Program and with Australian Chamber Orchestra Emerging Artists. Lindsay Gilroy, their pianist, has twice been a finalist in Symphony Australia’s Young Performer of the Year competition. They are unquestionably fine young musicians in their own right. Yet it must be wondered if they had anybody in St James’ audience on the two occasions your correspondent has heard them there. Or at their Utzon Room debut (see earlier blogpost). Someone to tell them to play softer and more delicately; to tell them the St James’ acoustic is complex and is misjudged at an ensemble’s peril; to suggest to them they misread the composition and should go back to the drawing board to think again. Who is coaching them?
Here is a prescription: find a sensitive chamber musician as a coach to work on refinement of their skills, their articulation and their ensemble, to convince them that “loud and lots” is not passion and intensity. Not just a masterclass, but over a longish period of time. They are smart enough and young enough to learn. Suggest someone? Perhaps someone like Brenda Jones, the eminently competent pianist of the Nexus Piano Quartet. She has the reputation and skills to mould this young ensemble into one of which all can be proud. Go on. Give it a go.